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OECD says governments must fight fat

By Dara Gantly

The rate of overweight people is projected to increase by a further 1 per cent per year for the next 10 years in some countries, according to the OECD.
A new OECD report has examined the current obesity epidemic, giving new comparative data, trends and projections across OECD countries and outlining causes and costs. It also notes ways in which the private sector and governments encouraged obesity and makes recommendations for ways they can contribute to combating it.

Since the 1980s, obesity has spread at an alarming rate. Changes in food supply and eating habits, combined with a dramatic fall in physical activity, have made obesity a global epidemic. Across OECD countries, one in two adults is currently overweight and one in six is obese.

Rates are highest in the United States and Mexico and lowest in Japan and Korea, but have been growing virtually everywhere. Children have not been spared, with up to one to three currently overweight.

Severely obese people die eight to ten years sooner than those of normal weight, similar to smokers, and they are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Obesity is a burden on health systems, with healthcare expenditure for an obese person at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight.

Co-operation between governments and the private sector is key to the success of combating obesity. A prevention strategy combining health promotion campaigns, government regulation and family doctors counselling their obese patients would avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths from chronic diseases every year, says the OECD.

It would cost from US$10 to $30 per person, depending on the country. However, failure would impose heavy burdens of future generations.
Health ministers of OECD countries will be discussing ‘Obesity and the economics of prevention: fit not fat’ when they meet at the OECD next week (October 7 to 8).

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